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Freedom Marching in Circles

Winding Our Way to Gaza

by EMILY RATNER

Cairo.

Yesterday we joined the people of Gaza, the people of all of Palestine, and allies around the world in remembering the anniversary of the inhuman and illegal Israeli attacks that stole the lives of more than 1,400 mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons last December and January. And, in a manner far too appropriately suited to remembering an unfathomably vicious massacre and the preposterous silence of the American and Egyptian governments, we freedom marched in circles throughout the streets of Cairo.

The Egyptian government has revoked the contracts for the buses that would take us one step closer on our journey to Gaza and has forbidden us from leaving Cairo. Military police have torn down our small hand-written cards tied to the Kasr al Nil Bridge, following the Israelis’ lead in trying to disappear the names and numbers of Gaza’s martyrs. Candles meant to float along the Nile in remembrance are still in their boxes, their hundreds of distributors never permitted to board the feluccas (river boats) waiting just beyond overwhelming security forces. We regroup, circle again, and find another path to remembering and reminding, another way through the many checkpoints and the impossible border ahead.

The Egyptian government taunts us, encouraging us to enjoy the tourist attractions Cairo offers during our mandatory stay in the city. And some of us do. We even take Gaza with us: Yesterday, Abdullah Anar, a Turkish Muslim, and Max Geller, an American Jew, raced up the face of one of the pyramids to unveil a 12 meter by 6 meter Palestinian flag. For about three minutes one of the most resilient structures on earth proudly called the name of one of the world’s most unbreakable people. We smuggle stories like this one through the tunnels connecting our hearts, exposing them in whispered reminders of the beauty and truth in this struggle, and the unending patience and flexibility we are slowly learning from our friends in Gaza.

We are more than 1,300 representing over 40 nations; we are scrappy, and we are undeterred. More than 330 French delegates camp out at their embassy, demanding the buses that never arrived there last night. They face an army of twenty-five military trucks, and a wall of police three bodies deep on all sides. 8 of us are held in Ismailia, a long way from our border destination. 30 more are detained in Al Arish, near the Rafah crossing. 2 keep a lonely vigil at a checkpoint just outside of Al Arish, refusing to turn back. And hundreds of us circle silently in the smoky haze of Cairo, evading the informants that infest our hostels and meeting spaces, planning, failing, and then planning again.

We do not forget that our frustrations here in Cairo are the smallest fraction of what our friends in Gaza suffer every day. We do not forget the passport privilege that has so far kept us from physical harm. We do not forget the shelter awarded by some of our embassies, and our friends and allies who make endless appeals to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on our behalf. Yesterday was not a day of forgetting. December 27th is a day to remember.

We remember the more than 1,400 that were murdered. We remember the hundreds more who have died as a result of this horrific siege. We remember the tens of thousands who are still homeless, one full year later. And we remember our sisters and brothers on the other side of the Rafah border who have breathed life into this historic march every day for months, who have guided our feet to Cairo, and who light the shadowy path to Gaza. Most of all we remember that they will still be caged in Israel’s massive open-air prison long after we’ve safely returned home.
And so we freedom march in circles, planning, dodging, regrouping, often failing, sometimes succeeding, and then circling again. Joining our friends in Gaza for the Freedom March on December 31st is possibly nothing more than a dream now, but in these long days we take lessons from our Palestinian mentors, who have walked far more treacherous circles than ours. And we march with them in Cairo and in dozens of cities across the globe as we demand that the Israeli, American, and Egyptian governments listen to the people of the world and set Gaza free.

EMILY RATNER is an organizer and mediamaker based in New Orleans. In June she traveled to Gaza with a New Orleans delegation. This month she will be joining thousands of Palestinians and internationals for the Gaza Freedom March on December 31st. Help us get there. She can be reached at: emily@nolahumanrights.org.